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“The place of the fish fence”

For the week of Monday, June 12, 2017

On June 12, 1982, the Mnjikaning fish weirs on the Trent-Severn waterway were designated a national historic site. Dating back 5000 years, these fish weirs are some of the oldest ever found in North America.

A Parks Canada underwater archaeologist investigates the remains of weir stakes
© Parks Canada Agency, 2006

The Mnjikaning fish weirs are located in the Atherley Narrows between Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe in Ontario. Fish weirs are stone or wooden structures built across waterways or at river mouths, to funnel migrating fish towards a small opening for capture. This way, large amounts of fish, which were then smoked and dried, could be caught.

To create the weirs, hundreds of wooden stakes would be placed in the channel, likely with materials woven horizontally between them. The stakes were driven into the soft channel bottom with rocks placed around them to create a more solid footing. The maple, birch and cedar stakes averaged about 3.8 centimetres in diameter and two metres tall. The remaining stakes at Mnjikaning appear to come from two different weir structures. Carbon dating of wood samples has revealed that some are more than 5,000 years old!

A view of the national historic site
© Jim Molnar, Parks Canada Agency, 2003

Samuel de Champlain described seeing people fishing at the weirs on September 1, 1615. In the 1650s, the Wendat (Huron), who lived and farmed throughout this region, were forced to flee due to the French-Iroquois wars. Today, the Chippewas of Rama (also known as Mnjikaning) First Nation, who were relocated to this area in 1836, maintain a stewardship role over the fish fence. The site is valued as sacred to the memory of the Wendat.

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a designated national historic site. June is Aboriginal History Month! To learn more about First Nations archaeological sites, read Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, History and Legend at Gitwangak Battle Hill, and A Canadian Archaeological Treasure in the This Week in History archives. To learn about another historic site on the Trent-Severn Waterway, see “Up and Down and Up and Down”.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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